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McKenzie: Difficult to make call on punishment for Chara

Bob McKenzie
3/9/2011 1:55:56 AM
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The Montreal Canadiens' fans have it all figured out. Life imprisonment for Boston Bruin defenceman Zdeno Chara. Throw away the key.

The Boston Bruins' faithful are equally sure of their verdict -- time served (a five-minute major and game misconduct) is just fine and dandy, thank you very much.

This Chara hit on Montreal forward Max Pacioretty, which left the Canadien unconscious on the ice after being steered by Chara head first into the glass partition at the players' bench, was the kind that leaves you with a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach.

In relative terms, Pacioretty is okay. Which is to say he was able to move his extremities, he was conscious and conversant at hospital although it's quite obvious he suffered a concussion and no one can say what exactly that means for him both short and long term, in life as well as hockey.

So now the proverbial ball is in the court of NHL hockey operations department. VP Mike Murphy will ultimately make the call on whether or not to suspend because executive VP Colin Campbell is recused due to his son Gregory playing for Boston.

And on this one, I would suggest Murphy requires the wisdom of Solomon to make his ruling.

Montreal fans are convinced Chara knew exactly what he was doing, that he rammed Pacioretty into the glass partition as part of a running battle with that player dating back to an early January game when Pacioretty pushed Chara from behind after scoring a game-winning goal.

Others, certainly Bruin fans, would suggest that is not Chara's style, that he's not a dirty player and it was an unfortunate result, a hockey play gone wrong.

Personally, I didn't see or sense any malice or obvious intent to injure on the play but one would have to be a mind reader to know for certain what exactly Chara was thinking at that moment. Who knows, really?

To me, it looked as though Chara was compensating for potentially being beaten to the outside by Pacioretty and after the puck had been advanced up the ice, the big defenceman attempted to rub the Canadien winger into the boards. 

But here's the bottom line for me. Chara was rightfully assessed an interference penalty on the play. Because of the obvious injury, it was a five-minute major.

Certainly, if the partition weren't there, it would have been no more than a two-minute minor for interference and there almost assuredly would have been no injury on the play. But the partition was there and, ultimately, Chara is responsible for the outcome. He made an illegal play that caused injury and even if there was an absence of malice, Chara is still responsible.

Them's the breaks, so to speak.

It's no different than when a player goes in to make a shoulder-to-shoulder check on another player by the boards. If the hitter makes contact forcefully enough and the player being hit has his head rap off the glass, causing obvious injury, that player doing the the hitting is going to be assessed a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct and is quite likely to get a suspension. Intent doesn't always have to be the critical factor. Outcome often works as well. 

Suspensions in those cases, where there is an illegal play causing injury but where there is no obvious or apparent intent to injure, generally run in the two-game neighborhood, give or take a game.

So if I were in the unfortunate position of having to rule on this one, I would be looking at a two-game suspension. For me, no more, no less.

And it's that type of ruling that would make no one happy.

Canadiens' fans would see it as a heinous act that should be punished much more severely. Bruins' fans aren't convinced it's worthy of a suspension at all and that it's another sign the NHL is going soft with suspensions for hockey hits.

But...

The hit was late. It was interference. It caused injury and while the design configuration of the boards and glass played a pivotal role in the severity of the injury, the responsibility is still with the hitter.

So two games is my call. No one will like it. Works for me.  

We'll find out Wednesday where the NHL comes down.

Bob McKenzie

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